Wednesday 26 December 2012

When a pub that is flooded reopens for business

A couple of days ago I wrote about how one of my local pubs had been flooded on Saturday night. Herculean efforts obviously took place as the Bridge Inn opened today — there was still the smell of dampness in the air and no food was served, but Kenny and Rachel plus staff had moved mountains (and dealt with the post-traumatic shock of the flood) to make sure we could enjoy Boxing Day drinks. And I’m sure Jim will be able to enjoy his Exmoor Ale this afternoon (by the time Jim came in I had moved on to my other local before attempting to cook the traditional bubble and squeak). That’s it really — I just wanted to make a point, once again, about how pubs are more than places to get a few beers down. They are as much as part of our community as the church or — dare I say — the local Coop. Cheers. 

Sunday 23 December 2012

When a pub floods

The River Barle at 6pm a couple of hours before it broke

There’s a moment in the film The Battle of Britain when you see Londoners crowding together in a hall after they’ve been bombed out of their homes (sadly the hall gets it not long after). An old boy wanders about, muttering to himself, mantra-like ‘they’ve got the Rose & Crown, they’ve got the Rose & Crown’. 

I thought of this scene last night when all of a sudden my wife started seeing panicky messages on Facebook about the River Barle breaking its banks in Dulverton. We’re at the top of town and so I wandered down to find that the river had ‘got’ the Bridge Inn. Its downstairs lights were out, the doors were closed and water was flowing over its low wall, through the beer garden and into the pub. The firemen were out, the garage opposite was also flooded, as were several other properties around. 

This morning we walked the dog past and I spoke with Kenny the landlord. He’d been optimistic he would be open again by tomorrow but now he wasn’t sure when beers would start flowing again. The cellar had not been flooded and in an attempt to lighten things I asked him if there was much beer left in the casks. What about Jim I then asked. Jim is a lovely old chap who lives nearby in sheltered accommodation and most days takes himself to the pub for a couple of pints of Exmoor Ale. He was on Lancasters in the war and also supports Arsenal so we’ve got a lot to talk about. He and the Bridge will miss each other for a few days — this is something that those who directly or indirectly talk down the pub forget: the pub is a home from home for many, even those of us with a warm (or not so warm in our case) comfortable house. 

For a few days I will miss the Bridge, I will miss the general chit-chat over nothing in particular, a perusal through the papers, freshly pulled Proper Job or — if I’m feeling flush — a bottle of Duvel or Orval. It’s only for a few days but happening just before Christmas it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Kenny and his family. Hopefully though they’ll be open again before the end of the year, but it is at times like this that one remembers that the pub is much more than a place to drink. 

Thursday 20 December 2012

My favourite beer books of 2012

Words, food and beer: how a book begins (Marble Arch, Feb 2011)

Been some good books this year, but for me five stand out and here they are in no particular order. I loved Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont’s gorgeous World Atlas of Beer with the duo’s incisive and elegant styles of writing bringing the beers of the world to sparkling life allied with lush, luxuriant and lively photography. This is the beer book as a backpacker.

Then there was Chris Arnot’s Britain’s Lost Breweries and Beers, an elegiac and yet uplifting social history of those that were once at the centre of their community but have now gone. It might have been a yomp along memory lane but the lacrimosa was absent — some of the beers now vanished, Arnot suggested, might not have been that good. It’s a valuable record — Brian Glover’s The Lost Beers and Breweries of Britain covered a similarly melancholic subject but I have not seen it yet, but knowing how good a writer Brian is I will look for it in the new year.

Then there is Pete Brown’s exceptional Shakespeare’s Local. I did my first serious book review for the Telegraph of it and devoured it in one sitting. Even now I have been listening to Tony Robinson reading extracts from it on Radio 4 and continue to enjoy it. The strength and skill of the book is that Brown brings to life Southwark, seeing it through a beery eye and putting the George at the centre of things. I love it and think it’s his best book yet.

You will probably have a job getting these three books in time for Christmas but not with my final two choices, which are by the same writer and can be downloaded onto your Kindle within minutes. Evan Rail’s Why Beer Matters and In Praise of Hangovers are beer writing taken to a new philosophical plane, beer writing as a matter of musing, personal recollection, philosophical probing all brought together with an erudite and personable writing style. They are essays, elegant in their design, but also robust in the way in which they celebrate beer and its universe. In Praise of Hangovers was a particularly welcome company on a train journey I took from Pilsen to Munich back in September — a crowded carriage, a slight mustiness in the head after the Purkmistr festival the day before, the growing carousing of Oktoberfest-bound travellers, a desire to go home (though it would be another four days before that happened) and a disinclination to have another beer for a while. That essay made me feel much better and I remembered it that evening as I wandered open-mouthed around Oktoberfest’s carnage.

So there you are five great books and I haven’t even mentioned Mitch Steele’s book on IPA and Stan Hieronymus’ For The Love of Hops, which are for 2013.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

India Pale Bock anyone?

Joy of joys: part of the fun is digging out the mash

Why is collaboration with a brewery important to me? Why do I do it? There’s an element of ego — it’s satisfying to see your name linked with a brewery that you admire, a brewery that makes beers that you (and others) enjoy. It’s good fun to hang around a brewery for a day and find out how beer is brewed, rub loads of gorgeous hops such as Chinook, Bullion and Amarillo between your hands and take a Marianas Trench of a sniff and just for a day leave behind the potentially ruinous world of trying to put words together so that they form some sort of sense. I also love beer, love certain beers more than others and when I find a brewery that is willing to riff on a style that I love then I want to join in. There’s a sense of ‘let’s see what happens’ when certain combinations are tried; there is also a sense of experimentation, a sense of creativity. I can’t brew but I can devise a recipe and someone like Jon at Arbor (which is where I was on Friday) is happy to let me loose. That’s it really. Oh and the beer we have made will be called Bock Star and we’re saying that it’s an India Pale Bock and it will be released sometime late in January. That’s it really.

Monday 17 December 2012

Craft, craft or craft?

Christ I am so sick of people trying to work out whether a beer is craft or not, whether the beer that they might enjoy in their glass is made by one man in a bathtub or created beneath the whip of an evil, moustachioed corporate type (and who doesn’t probably pay their fair share of tax either). Good beer is good beer, though if you are the sort to boycott a company because what they do offends your view of the world then good luck (I must admit to a small chuckle when I saw that someone had written that they thought ‘we’ are boycotting Amazon when it came to discuss buying a certain beer book — who’s ‘we’ when they are at home?).

My mock outrage is fuelled by the furore (smallish I suspect in the context of the worldview of beer) over a press release issued by the Brewers Association the other day. It is entitled Craft Vs Crafty and goes on to state (or maybe restate) what a craft brewery is, making specific connections to breweries that are owned by big corporations.

This is the part of the press release that jumped out at me and bit my nose: ‘Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace. Many started producing their own craft-imitating beers, while some purchased (or are attempting to purchase) large or full stakes in small and independent breweries.

‘While this is certainly a nod to the innovation and ingenuity of today's small and independent brewers, it's important to remember that if a large brewer has a controlling share of a smaller producing brewery, the brewer is, by definition, not craft.’

I was sent the press release and my first thoughts were of the UK regional breweries that are using the word craft and crafty for beers produced on both their big kits and pilot micros. Greene King ‘craft’ their beers, while others like Brains, St Austell and Wadworth have small ‘craft breweries’ to produce excellent beers such as Brains’ series of IPAs, St Austell’s incredible array of one-offs for their beer festival and Waddies’ Beer Kitchen range. And the other day I enjoyed Thwaites’ Crafty Dan, a 6% American-style Pale Ale produced on a micro kit. Are these beers craft? I don’t give a monkeys. I enjoy Crafty Dan and Shepherd Neame’s Double Stout as much as I have recently loved Arbor’s Dr Rudi’s IPA, Otley’s Oxymoron and anything by Wild Beer.

It’s up to the BA to say what they like and I suspect that there might still be a vestige of David vs Goliath in their mental make-up, something which you could probably apply to the mind-set of some within a beer group closer to home. Goose Island are owned by the Evil Empire, but I still love their IPA, Matilda and Bourbon County amongst others, so I couldn’t give a flying fig whether it was classified as craft or not. I don’t care very much for the effluent of Pabst Blue Ribbon (is it still a hipster’s ironic choice?) but on the other hand I have also been under whelmed by some US (and UK) self-proclaimed craft breweries.

Craft, craft or craft? Who knows, who cares?

Thursday 13 December 2012

Moeder Lambic Fontainas

A long straight bar, solid wood tables Guardsman-straight, arranged in rows, the elements, the hardness, an Atlantic coast bashed by the waves, Cornwall, Brittany, Kerry, take your pick, the sense of being rooted to one place. The glitter of glasses from behind the bar, tubular stainless steel from where the beer flows; signals and signs and symbols dashing through the air and by this way drawing in the drinkers. Moeder Lambic Fontainas.

Babbling voices raising like steam from a street grill in some 50s noirscape, guttural Flemish, fluted French, English flitting in and out like bats twirling through the air of a summer’s evening. Bowls of stew, sweet, fulsome, meaty, a sleet storm of flavour; stoemp ladled out, creamy, buttery, root vegetable, potato mashed and smashed; rough and rugged cuts of charcuterie and pungent cheese that stills the restless tongue for a while. Moeder Lambic Fontainas.

The beer selection, chalked up, V for Victory, the resistance fighting back perhaps. Tapped into glasses come along the likes of Cantillon’s Kriek Lou Pepe and Fou’ Foune, De Ranke’s scorchingly bitter Hop Harvest 2012 and the same brewery’s ever dependable Cuvee, plus many others, whose names stand out on the blackboard, chalked up there: V for Victory. Moeder Lambic Fontainas.

Thank you Brussels.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Watneys Pale Ale

On pale ale I’ve been engaged in research and contacted several brewers here and in the US on their definitions, the idea being to build up a composite picture of what seems to me the broad spectrum of the contemporary beer style with reference to its past (but not dwelling on it). I’m especially indebted to Simon Yates, head brewer at Marston’s in Wolverhampton and the chap who’s been producing essential information on the hop varieties used in Marston’s single hop series. He has supplied me lots of information, but what brought a wry smile to my face was his mention of Watneys Pale Ale. It’s not a beer I ever had (same goes for Red Barrel — were they the same?), but even in my non-beer drinking youth I was aware that there was something off about Watneys. Simon also mentioned the fact that the Scaffold (of Lily the Pink fame) sung on an advert for the brewery, which went out on the TV. I don’t know much about the Scaffold except that they seemed a bit of a joke band and featured Paul McCartney’s brother, but they didn’t seem to mind being associated with Watneys (perhaps this was just before the Red Barrel fiasco). However just for the record here are the words of the ad, which makes me think that Stella had travelled a long away when they turned to French movies for their inspiration…

We’ll drink a drink a drink/To make you think a think a think/Of Watney’s Pale,
The greatest a-a-ale,/So you can keep your medicinal compound
Now we’ve discovered Watney’s Pale.
W-e-e-e’ll drink a drink a drink/To make you think a think a think,/Of Watney’s Pale,
The greatest ale.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Pilsen dreaming

I love the Czech Republic, love the cities, love the countryside, love the people and naturally adore the beers produced over there. I seem to have visited quite a lot in the last couple of years and produced a fair few stories: this is the latest one, on Pilsen (the entrance to Pilsner Urquell, right), which appears in today’s Daily Mail here. As the sun streams in through the window I wouldn’t mind taking myself off to Klub Malych Pivovaru in the city to enjoy a couple of 12˚ pale lagers or heading out to the city limits to Purkmistr, where one of the best beer festivals in Europe happens every September. Instead I’m at home, but there is a bottle of Konrad’s 12˚ pale lager chilling in the  fridge. Let’s see what happens.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Dark Star/Bristol Beer Factory Southern Conspiracy

Pale and pure Helles gold in colour, New Zealand hops leap out of the glass with the grace of a gazelle filled with the joy of life unaware that the same skill will be called on to escape a lion the next day; a joyful crushing of white grapes in the hand, the imagined fragrance of the scented, sage-like brush of the Corsican marquis. Hey it’s 7% but in the mouth the feel is elegant, full without being coarse (a greatcoat as designed by Paul Smith perhaps), grape must sweetness, gooseberry jelly delicacy with a nod towards sourness and earthiness, grapefruit, adult parma violets even, all trifled with by the hard-backed dryness of the desert, white pepper bitterness, both contributing to a finish that thunders at the back of the throat, the echoes of the hooves of herd of wild horses long after they’ve passed. I was sent this from Dark Star’s brewmeister Mark Tranter, who was very proud of what he did with Simon at BBF. The use of the white wine casks in which the beer has aged is a bit of a change from the usual whisky/rum/brandy cask finish and it does give the beer a lighter touch than its abv would suggest. Its beers like this that remind me of unorthodox bands I would hear on John Peel late at night, fusing this and that and making sense of the mix. If there’s ever a moment when I feel a bit bored with what’s going on in beer then something like Southern Conspiracy beats me up and throws me on the floor and suggests I go outside to carry on the discussion, a suggestion I willingly comply with. 

Friday 30 November 2012

Breathless awe

For me Elizabeth David remains one of the most compelling food writers ever (despite the fact that I think her influence might have been detrimental to postwar beer). I read her books constantly and this morning while flicking through An Omelette and a Glass of Wine I started reading this essay about Edouard de Pomaine, a French food writer and scientist. According to David he was not a fan of fancy French cooking and described Homard à l’amércaine as ‘a cacophony…it offends a basic principle of taste.’ However, what really interested me was the rest of the paragraph from David: I rather wish he had gone to work on some of the astonishing things Escoffier and his contemporaries did to fruit. Choice pears masked with chocolate sauce and cream, beautiful fresh peaches smothered in raspberry purée and set around with vanilla ice seem to me offences to nature, let alone art or basic principles. How very rum that people still write of these inventions with breathless awe. My point? If you substitute the word fruit with beer then you might get what I’m driving at. There’s a fine line between innovation and novelty and sometimes I don’t think some brewers get it. 

Thursday 29 November 2012


Don’t really know Kent. Seen more of it from the window of a Euro-star than anything else, though went through Canterbury many years ago and saw it through the glass of a ferry-bound coach. Never been to Faversham but I have been to Whitstable; I managed to avoid the oysters; never been to that seaside place where whelks are definitely the dish to die for either. Been to one brewery. Back in 2006. It was Westerham Brewery for the MOS Live magazine; wasn’t used in the end though they paid me handsomely and sent a snapper out there (it happens, ‘the mix isn’t right’, ‘our competitor just ran the same story’, ‘the editor doesn’t like men in beards’ etc).

‘It’s a wet, grey winter’s day in the heart of rural northern Kent. The trees are bare and lifeless, buffeted by a freezing wind hurling itself straight from Siberia. The fields around Grange Farm at Crockham Hill are ridged and furrowed, waiting for the first shoots of spring. Ahead of me lies an elegant Queen Anne farmhouse and behind it a jumble of barns and stables. A brace of horses are led steaming to their quarters after an early morning gallop. It’s a timeless, comforting scene – a little piece of old England untouched by modern life.’

So that was my vision of Kent and the article continued.

So Kent, why Kent? I recently bolted down Gadds’ Dogbolter with the ferocity of a man whose first name is Thirst. I’ve enjoyed Shepherd Neame’s Celebration. Kent continued to hove into view with the arrival of Shepherd Neame’s Double Stout and IPA in the postbox (the postman won’t deliver to the door anymore because of our dogs, one of which, a 10 year old horror of a Parson Jack Russell, has a penchant for biting packages). Two beers, both of which I am told are just the first of the brewery’s trawl through the archives.

In the silence of a late Sunday afternoon, I poured a glass of the Double Stout and it was a soothing and smooth cranial massage on the temple of the weekend’s end. I loved it. I loved the chocolate (milk) and creamy coffee nose; I also loved its undertone of raisin/current fruitiness. I loved the luxurious mouth-feel with more chocolate, coffee and dark fruit. I loved its darkness and its sense of the earth at night. I look forward to more.

As it happened Westerham also sent me something of Kent, a mini keg of British Bulldog, which I haven’t had for several years — but looking at my tasting notes then I espie: ‘Earthy, oily, citrusy, hint of tropical fruit, cereal crunchiness in background. Dry, bitter, hangs onto the throat.’ I have yet to open it but I will be interested to see what I get. I was also sent a mini-keg of Spirit of Kent, which, during the summer, became the brewery’s first permanent beer for several years; it uses nine different Kent bred and Kent grown hops. This I did breach last night, aiming to bring some Kent to the dark Exmoor chilliness of night. There was a distinct swing of the compass about the nose, as it touched all points citrus sweetness (mandarin), earthiness and pungent hop sack. The palate carried a refrain of similar mandarin sweetness (orange jelly for adults), a muscular earthiness (think big Burgundies), a slight of almond and a dry bitter finish. A Spitfire garnishes the pump clip and I can think of no better analogy for this beer than the purring beauty of that aircraft’s Merlin engine when in full flight.

So do I know Kent? Probably not, but it’s a bit clearer now. 

Saturday 24 November 2012

Shakespeare’s Local

Last week my review of Pete Brown’s Shakespeare’s Local appeared in the books pages of the Daily Telegraph, which you can read here. As is normal it was cut to fit the page but I thought it might be fun to let people read the whole review, so here it is.

Shakespeare’s Local
By Pete Brown
384pp, Macmillan (RRP £16.99, EBOOK £9.85)


This is a book about a pub: the George Inn in Southwark. The George has been around in one form or another for five centuries. Hidden away off Borough High Street, with the Shard piercing the sky to its front, it’s especially unique in being London’s last galleried coaching inn. I’ve been there several times: it’s a rickety old place, listing like an ancient ship of the line, its galleries tipsily overlooking the yard where tourists drink deeply of Ye Olde England. Charles Dickens drank here, as did Dr Johnson. The Globe was just around the corner so Shakespeare probably popped in, which why we’ve got this catchy little title.

Pete Brown is one of the UK’s leading beer writers and has three beer-centric books to prove it. His last one was Hops and Glory, in which he transported a barrel of India Pale Ale to India on a variety of boats (to replicate the 19th century trading route). It was a unique tale of leaky casks, banana boats, mid-ocean madness and lots of beer. It won him Beer Writer of the Year 2009, but this time, this London-based Yorkshireman hasn’t strayed too far.

Why the George? It might be a survivor but it’s not the oldest London inn. It’s not the most historic either. However, Brown choose it because as he writes early in the book: ‘there are arguably more celebrated pubs…but if you are going to focus on the story of one pub, you’ve got to pick the one that tells the best story.’

And stories he tells. Princess Margaret came for Sunday lunch in the 1960s with the Bishop of Southwark; the newspapers wagged fingers as only they can after the Princess and her group seemed to carry on way past closing time. Winston Churchill dined here, bringing his own port though he met his match in redoubtable landlady Agnes Murray, who served from 1871 until 1934.

‘He once turned up for dinner with a bottle of quality port, explaining to Miss Murray that on his last visit there was none. She served him with a quiet smile, and then presented him with a bill, which included “Corkage: one shilling and sixpence”.’

So did Shakespeare visit the George? Brown believes so, but he also writes: ‘did Shakespeare perform plays at the George? Much as it pains me to say so, probably not.’ You could argue that the book title is somewhat of a red herring as it suggests that the book might be a keenly argued thesis on Shakespeare’s relationship with the George. It’s not. Think Julie Myerson’s Home instead, applied to a pub and written in Brown’s matey, down to earth slightly tipsy man at the bar style (his footnotes are hilarious).

It’s lively and exuberant, a literary version of a cracking pub crawl. It recounts the history of the George and its people, but also delightfully digresses to the social history of Southwark while celebrating those who have walked and drank in its streets over the centuries. From puritans to prime ministers, princesses to poets, the George has seen them all. Though I’m not sure I’d have liked a drink with 18th century regular, the poet Sir John Mennis: his speciality was writing about flatulence.

Adrian Tierney-Jones

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Belgian beer

In a high-ceilinged wood-panelled room, tall windows overlooking the frenetic human chessboard of Grand Place, a man talks: ‘Belgium is a small country that likes to conquer with beer and food.’ There is then talk about Pils being on the decline in the country and craft beer sales starting to grow; the backslapping continues with news of the success of beer exports. This then starts me off thinking and recalling several other strands of thought from people I had tapped into over the past couple of years: is Belgian beer sitting on a time bomb? The following couple of days judging at the Brussels Beer Challenge while talking beer and drinking beer and being beer reminded me that there might be something in the future of Belgian beer that needs to be addressed in the near future (or it might even be addressed now, as those in the Belgian brewing industry in that room were well aware of the issue). 

For those for whom beer is an infrequent source of either refreshment or liquid pleasure, I would guess that for them Belgian beer rests on a nest of laurels laid there by the likes of Leffe, Chimay, Stella and Kwak (nice glass, that would look good on the sideboard mum, perhaps next to the faux wineskin gran brought back from Spain in the 1970s) plus whatever sweet gueuze you can get in those tiny shops that dot the centre of Brussels (this is Belgian beer in the same way visitors to Munich during Oktoberfest probably see Paulaner as representative of Bavarian beer). Outside the city, beyond the trails of tourists checkmating their bodies around the Grand Place, more enterprising brewers are throwing in hops, inculcating yeast strains, aging and withering their beers, turning them inside out and op, applying a variety of grains and spices and then selling their wares to America and other parts of Europe rather than to the local café, where the regulars like their Jupiler. I think I first was aware of this trend when visiting one small brewer in 2006 and learning that the majority of his beers went to the US.

There are some great Belgian breweries, both craft and longer established, but I sometimes feel that the country is eclipsed by what is happening elsewhere and that some of its more established brewers are happy to sit back, look at their fob watches and think ‘we are Belgian’ in a German or Czech manner, but after my sojourn in Brussels I’m starting to have these thoughts: might Belgian beer find itself in a bit of a pickle if overseas’ markets collapse?

Tuesday 20 November 2012


What is the sound and vision of the brewery? The humming round-and-round-we-go nnnnnnnn of the python coolers, a spinning top of ambient Eno-esque sound in perpetual motion — the sharp clink of bottles as a silent woman lures the beer in and traps it with a deft appliance of a crown cork — over there look, the ragged, tattered banner of steam escapes from a vent in the stainless steel container that we call the HLT — two plastic bags (once they held grain from Tuckers Maltings) of used hops slouch teenage-style on the concrete and add a welcome bright banana and pineapple disturbance to the air about them. I only see it briefly when adding a pestle of partly ground black peppercorns, grains of paradise and dried Curacao orange peel into the copper, but the rhythmic Jacob’s Ladder of the boil, the repetitive climb and decline of the hot liquid that one day will be cool and fermented, strong and spicy, dark and downsized into a glass and eager to create an impression on the palate of a drinker whom I shall never meet.
A few minutes I had on my hands whilst assisting with another brew of Otley’s Saison Obscura and a scrap of paper on which to allow a few words to meander on the nature of what constitutes a brewery. Every impression of a brewery that I visit is different. 

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Win a copy of Britain’s Lost Breweries and Beers

Good lord a competition, the chance to win a copy of Chris Arnot’s superb Britain’s Lost Breweries and Beers. I got sent one and thought it might be nice to get the publishers to give away a couple — I did it for Home Brew a couple of years ago. It’s a lovely book, nostalgic in its recollection of breweries and their beers long gone, but on the other hand it’s not dewy-eyed and the author makes the point that currently we’ve never had it so good in our choice of both British and global beers. It is also a social history, a recollection of memories, a compendium of both black-and-white and colour photos (then and now) and the beers that made the likes of Simpkiss, Fremlin’s and Vaux such favourites with the home crowd. These were breweries at the centre of their communities, employing hundreds of locals and sending out beers up and down the county (and in some cases further afield) to their own pubs. There are 30 breweries remembered and I have tried beers from 11 of them (this includes Tolly, Morrell’s and Hardy & Hanson’s) and even managed to visit two of them (Young’s and Gale’s), though I once turned up in Oxford several years before Morrell’s closed in the hope of getting in but the gates were shut. With such a vibrant brewing industry whizzing up and down the land, it’s important to remember those that went before — and this book is a crucial aid in not forgetting.
So if you would like to win a copy, just email me at with the answer to this question: where did Tamplin’s brew? First two to email me win.

Monday 5 November 2012

The surrealism of steel

This is where Duvel is brewed. It’s a space that reminds me of both a factory and a weird imagined space age emporium; high windows let the light in, but on the evening of my visit they keep the night at bay. There are metal pipes and tanks, a forest of pipes, a tenacity of tanks; a capacious submarine with its turbine and torpedo tubes and for just a moment I imagine the pitch and sway and roll of the sea, before coming to the hop store, where despite the tightly packed intimacy of sealed foiled packets, cardboard boxes, the aroma of the family of hops that Moortgat uses is a fragrant friendly ghost drifting through the air. 

Sunday 4 November 2012

Brussels Beer Challenge results

A weekend spent in Brussels, tasting beer as part of the jury for the inaugural Brussels Beer Challenge; 30 or so judges from the UK, Europe, China, the US and Canada; 35 beers on Friday morning, 37 on Saturday (the results are here). The massed ranks of ambers parading across Friday morning, a well-organised drill of warm toffee, lemon sherbet and — sign of the times indeed — US hops. Amber is a type of beer that has often eluded me with its commonplace reliance on malt and its anonymous fruitiness; but the tasting that I took through 20 of these beers on Friday morning produced a greater appreciation even if I scribbled notes such as ‘primitive’, ‘very safe’ and ‘uninspiring’ besides some of the beers. On the other hand, one of my favourites had warm toffee on the palate, while the nose of the table’s winner rang and chimed away with the light tones of US hops (it was our winner and can be revealed as Caldera Ashland Amber ). And one of the things that I learnt from this excellent competition was that it’s ok to spit. Even though I’ve been judging beer for years, I rarely use the spittoon, adhering to the old saw that to properly evaluate the beer you had to swallow. This time I was able to taste more of the beer, holding it in my mouth, swilling it about and then spitting. I loved the moment it spent in mouth as a variety of flavours ebbed and flowed and were recorded before the liquid was jettisoned. It’s just as well: Saturday morning saw our table being presented with a nefarious host of dark beers, including Baltic Porter and Imperial Stout. Sometimes it’s good to let go. 

Thursday 1 November 2012


Stuart Howe at Sharps sent me a bottle of DW, which he had brewed in collaboration with the late Dave Wickett. I thought I’d drink it. I’ve had it when it was younger but this was older and had had time to settle. On the nose, a filmic contrast between a scowling, tough, dockyard dweller, neckerchief wearing, shoulder bulging, granite-like hardness Belgian and a Jean Genet type, implacably bald, beret-wearing, muscle-bound with a sailor hat atop: there is a  yeastiness, fruitiness, peachiness; a peach dessert sweetness on the nose; a dessert wine Muscat swipe on the nose, a dirty troll like dig into the hop sack on the nose; it is vinous, vine-like, Vinland-like, Varus vs the barley hordes, my big fat barley beer, the idea of the Rhine as a boundary between wine and beer;  sweetness, dessert wine London clubland, the femininity of Muscat. 

And so I drank it. Fatness, sweetness, dryness, sweetness I was only joking, smokiness, peachiness, round ripe peaches, the dryness of the mouth’s assault on the ripe skin of a peach, the release of juice, an RSM of hop bitterness bawling from across the parade ground to keep all things in order; the marmalade sweetness glides across the brioche like breadiness and big fat uncle Charlie — just about keeping himself in order — bawls along, saying all the wrong things, but we all know we love him. And it all ends as it should end: with a big alcoholic wave of papaya, pineapple, Billy Smart big top ring sawdust dryness and then a wonderful world tucks you into your bed. 

Monday 22 October 2012

Going Wild in the country

Brett the brewer talks about gerbil cages

Some of the best breweries I’ve visited sit in the middle of nowhere: Dupont, Kacov, Hook Norton and now Wild Beer Company, to where I walked for a couple of miles up and down country lanes on Saturday (home is hidden away somewhere between Castle Cary and Shepton Mallet, right on the eastern edge of Somerset, in a lovely little hamlet called Westcombe). The day was a sort of launch for the brewery, a chance to try some of their beers, to engage with their ideas, to meet up with the like-minded. Fresh was their signature pale ale, a button-popping, corset-stretching joy of a juicy, luscious beer with a bitter, dry, peppery finish. It was gorgeous. Scarlet Claw was a red ale, with Centennial in the boil and finished off with Simcoe. The malt bill is also intruging — Mild ale and Brown plus CaraAroma and CaraRed from Weyermann in Bavaria. It had a slightly creamy texture, silky almost, with lots of voluptuous grapefruit and pineapple notes, but also a delicious hint of what I can only describe as cherry-flavoured toffee. And then to the beer that Wild men Andrew and Brett descibe as ‘what we are all about’. Modus Operandi is described as an old ale that is then aged in wood and has wild yeast chucked into the mix. The earthy, chocolaty, Bretty, herbal, woody, vinous, cherry and balsamic vinegar nose just stunned me with its complexity. In the mouth it was a case of chocolate going off the rails, Brett in the train’s cabin pulling all the levers, while earthy sexiness, chocolate, cherry and soft vanilla passed through all the carriages before arriving with the sort of bitter finish that makes you realise why you like beer and want to keep drinking it. Or to put it another way, melodic and harmonic but strong willed in its character — Mahlerian perhaps. Possibly one of the best beers I’ve had this year and yet another indication of the way British craft brewers are really  starting to up their game. If you’re in the vicinity of Bristol this week, I hear some is being delivered to the Colston Yard

You’ll find Wild Beer just right of the photo’s centre,
in that little hamlet on the side of the hill

Thursday 11 October 2012

World Atlas of Beer

In the post the postman brings a copy of The World Atlas of Beer by Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb, their attempt to cover what’s happening in the world of craft beer (I would have added ‘at the moment’, but things are moving so fast that the book can only provide a snapshot of a moment in time, something that Webb acknowledged when he wrote about the book in the British Guild of Beer Writers newsletter last month here). 

It’s a gorgeous production, luxuriant and lush with photos of fields of barley caught in the sway, men and women on the mash and bronzed, Adonis-like streams of beer flowing with a Gambrinus-like sense of freedom. Webb and Beaumont are for my money two of the best beer-writers on the planet — forensic in their attention to detail, wry stylists and both imbued with years of traipsing round breweries, talking to people and drinking the beer. If Michael Jackson rediscovered Belgium’s great brewing heritage, then Tim in the manner of a Pointillist painter filled in all the dots; Stephen’s elegant brushstrokes of colour on beer, gastronomy and travel sometimes reminds me of Van Dyke or Reubens. 

As the book’s title suggests, it covers the world, shining a spotlight on 35 countries and their beers. As with most books of this nature there are sections at the front about the raw materials and brewing modes, a couple of spreads about craft beer plus one spread about ‘High Volume Brewing and Convenience Beers’, which has long been missing in beer books (when I edited 1001 Beers I included several beers of this ilk because I felt they needed to be there, they couldn’t ignored). 

Here’s Tim Webb second from left at the
British Guild of Beer Writers awards in 2005 with
Michael Jackson, John Keeling (far right) and
Alastair Gilmour (left)
A page is also given to styles and it’s clear that the authors are not fetishistic about this subject. This para is a good summation of their beliefs: ‘Unfortunately this (beer styles) approach has evolved into a morass of confusion and obfuscation, with it seeming at times as if every new beer is awarded its own unique style descriptor’. 

It’s a delicious book, over which I have been drooling over and delving into for several days. If I have only one criticism it’s this: modern publishing likes photos, usually at the expense of text, it’s about connecting with a modern audience we’re told. Given the two writers’ expertise and pleasing manner of expressing themselves I could have done with more of their words.

While we’re on the written word, I’ve also been sent the second issue of a magazine called Doghouse, which styles itself as the pub and café magazine. It has lovely production values, a pleasing aroma of paper, is thick and just right to read in the pub, has an avalanche of words tumbling over the edge of the precipice, photos of pubs that you might want to enter and others you might want to give a miss, has the size and feel of Wallpaper, swells with an infectious liveliness and in this issue focuses on the borders and Marches of Herefordshire, but I am told by the editor that it will move about. It’s a valuable record of pub life, whimsical and occasionally rambling, but well worth looking out for. It’s £4.99 and I’d recommend going here to find out more.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Horse blanket

Back from running, where on the way, I passed a stable, and on the fence, nicely folded, was a horse blanket, while from inside their boxes the two horses looked out at the world into which they would soon be ridden. The phrase horse blanket when used in relation to lambic is well-worn and perhaps spun out when the nearest the writer has got to a horse is some well-seasoned mince on a trip to Belgium (I seem to recall Martyn Cornell writing something on this recently). So I stopped and took a deep sniff, there’s nothing like original research. And what did I find? Manure, not unpleasant, the lure of the organic garden, old wet straw, autumn, earthiness, upturned soil perhaps after a shower of rain, horse’s sweat, like damp leather perhaps, a deep pungent strangely pleasing aroma that as I started running again I was able to fix onto my memories of lambic. It’s an aroma that has a lot in common with the orange, pine, banana and lychee notes we get on beer for instance, an aroma rooted in the land, a primary aroma that hasn’t been baked or manufactured (think biscuity or mocha for starters). And yes you can pick it out on some lambics but I do urge you to stop and smell next time you’re near a stable.
PS the use of the word blanket denotes something cosy and comforting but I often think that horse blankets are more like anoraks, which brings us back to beer.

Monday 8 October 2012

Brussels spouts a new Beer Challenge

I did a lot of travelling last month, about which you can read here, here and here. My next trip is a bit more modest, at the start of November, to Brussels to act as judge in the first Brussels Beer Challenge. It seems like serious stuff — there are judges coming in from all over the world, including Beer Advocate’s Alström brothers, the ‘Beer Pope’ Conrad Seidl and the co-writers of The World Atlas of Beer Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont. It should be fun. Reason I’m mentioning the event is that the closing date for submitting beer to be judged is this coming Friday and I know that the organisers would like to see more British beers. So, I’m doing my public service thing for the event (for which I am not being paid, though accommodation, travel and sustenance is being covered) — if you’re a brewer (or the friend of a brewer) then maybe it’s worth having a look to see whether you should enter. I don’t normally do John-Bull-howay-the-lads patriotism, but it would be nice to see some Brit beers amongst the winners. 

Friday 28 September 2012

Who wants a unified theory of beer?

Years ago I used to earn a few quid (a very few quid) by proof-reading book manuscripts from an esoteric publishing house in Dorset. One of the books I seem to remember posited a grand unified theory of everything that not only brought in science but also spirituality and otherworldy happenings. Apparently this was a bit of a Holy Grail in the New Age community — sort of like Stephen Hawkings and ghost stories and levitation all in one. 

When I hear figures high up in the beer marketing industry talk in similarly swivel eyed evangelic tones, I guess I am hearing pleas for a unified theory of beer — it’s all beer and we must support it all to beat off the big bad wolf of tax, neo-prohibitionists, wine drinkers and the nanny state. There is no such thing as bad beer. I beg to differ. Yes there is and it’s not just those beers with sweetcorn on the nose. There are cask beers I regard as poor, while some craft keg can come across as chilled hop juice. However, bad beer or not it’s up to people to make their choice. I won’t be looking in through the windows of their homes and pulling a face at them. 

The upcoming Independent Manchester Beer Convention is one of the most exciting beer events for ages (and sadly I cannot make it). However, looking at the beer list, if it were embracing a unified theory of beer, the convention would also be selling John Smith, Carling, Newcastle Brown Ale, the usual suspects of cask beer and remaindered bottles of Animee, which it isn’t. I hope that the convention will kick off a new model of beer festival (operating in tandem with the more conventional ones), and it also has a pleasing and refreshing bias in the beers it has picked. No unified theory of beer here and rightly so.

And while I’m in beer philosophy mode, my only comment on how to define what craft beer is: it’s like defining love. You know when you’re in love, you don’t need a guide or guides to tell you so. I know that London Pride isn’t craft (which doesn’t mean it’s bad), but the Past Masters series is, while every new brewery that claims to be craft isn’t but some might just be. 

Wednesday 26 September 2012

There once was a barrel

The barrel stands, a one eyed elephant god, an Oliphaunt that haunted the Hobbits so much, a sentinent god ready to surprise or is it a god long ago turned into stone, its graven image now made use of by Aylinger? Metal bands encase it and hold its spirit in, leaving it bulging at the belly; its one eye looks raw and crusty, giving me a sense of sadness; but wait there is its brassy brass font that speaks for its individuality, its specialness, but also its lonesomeness. It’s Aylinger’s Fest beer, a spicy, minerally, tangy kind of beer, handled from a wooden barrel in a place that gives me a respite from the madness of the Oktoberfest. Yes please I will have another one — and the barrel shall continue with its devotional life affirming sense of being. 

Friday 21 September 2012


The brewkit at Minipivovar Labut 

Three brewpubs in northern Bohemia in one day and they all share something that strikes me: the use of the brewing kit as a showpiece for the drinkers and eaters. Instead of a band making a racket, there’s a copper faced stainless steel kit taking centre stage in the bar or the dining room, and when the brewer works the drinker or diner can amuse themselves by watching someone make the beer, the ancestor of which is already in their glass. At Minipivovar Labut in the beautiful town of Litoměřice, the kit is behind the bar, a silent irreproachable presence as the barman pours glasses of the two-year-old brewery’s fulsome 10˚ pale lager and its bounty of banana custard and bubblegum that is their Weiss. Onwards to the edge of town and the Hotel Koliba and Pivovarek Koliba, where the kit stands in a dining hall that has been turned into a hunting lodge where antlers and horns and stuffed game birds (as well as the odd agricultural equipment) decorate the walls as if the room was vying to be some sort of homage to St Hubertus. It’s a small kit, producing 200 litres at a time, but what brings a smile to my face is that as it stands on one side of the room, its presence reminds me of a drum kit or even a strangely perverse organ, at which the brewer/musician entertains people while they eat and drink. ‘Do people come and ask about the brewing,’ I say to the brewmaster Ondrej Klir. He nods as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. We escape this Valhalla to taste his beers in the fermenting room beneath and I find his Czech-American Pale Ale a striking mash up of bright hop notes and floral aromas and one of the better pale ales I’ve had in the current climate of Czech new wave brewing (at tomorrow’s Slunce ve Skle festival at Purkmistr in Pilsen we shall find out how far this new wave has come). And finally we end up at the town of Usti nad Labem at Na Rychte, a traditionally boisterous restaurant and brewery where the kit stands like a rock opposite the bar, a rock on which the voices of the roistering drinkers and diners crash upon like waves upon the shore. This is a 1000-litre kit on which the brewer Martina Valternova produces several excellent beers including a superb 12˚ pale lager, which is as good an expression of the Saaz hop as I have had for a long time. There’s caramel sweetness on the palate and a ringing singing tingle of bitterness and dryness wrapping up the finish. I found that it’s the perfect chaperone to a plate of roast duck, red cabbage and peculiarly cone-shape dumplings that are a speciality to the region I am told. And while we eat, the kit stands sentinel in the dark wooded beer hall ambience, ready and steady for the next brew. Ready for showtime. Who needs musicians, magicians or a comedian when you can have a brewer weaving their own particular kind of magic?  
The cones, the cones

Thursday 20 September 2012

Racing post

Racing pub I think as soon as I enter, let’s study the Racing Times, keep an eye on the telly, Great Yarmouth, where’s that, by the sea I seem to remember; remember remember the ghost of the smoke that once drifted through the impure air, but let’s turn to the roast joint, a more amenable aroma, sitting as it does in a glass cabinet, in which it keeps warm. This pub is full of noises: the scuff of shoes on the well sanded floor, a local reading the DT and clearing his throat with a great rebel yell of impending emphysema, while others at the bar exchange confidences in the manner of a serenading Louis Armstrong. I see a picket fence of fonts for the likes of Murphy’s, Sagres, Stella, Heineken while Greene King IPA and Brakspears Bitter do the cask swing. I also see a big hunk of cheese (Cheddar yellow, a bouncy kind of cheese perhaps), tomatoes, roast spuds on a plate with roast meat. I also see: racing prints, fine art in the manner of, on the wall. I taste the Brakspears; it’s fresh and has that feral, rustic, hedgerow deep Churchillian growl of bitterness that I always associate with British hops. Meanwhile, matey by the door eats his roast and spuds and already drives his memory into the future by reminiscing about his forthcoming trip to Madeira (club sandwich and chips and a few glasses of wine and me and the missus are sorted) that kicks off tomorrow (and I’ll be in a week on Friday to tell you all about it). This is not the sort of pub in which I want to spend the rest of my life but I like its raffish, Irish, old fashioned, dig-in-the-ribs, mind-the-locals, Paddington-is-a-funny-old-place, I’m-a-security-guard-but-I-live-in-a-mews kind of character that I seem to remember in 1980s London, a time when old pubs became cocktail bars but somehow ones like this one seem to survive. Racing pubs I thought when I first entered, how wrong was I.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Beer culture

Beer culture? What is beer culture? Some might argue that it’s about the liquid in the glass and the approach that the brewer has taken and how the drinker conjoins with it. It’s perhaps about what the brewer has done within the cloisters of the workplace, the ideas that have created the beer; it’s the experiences, the memories, the everyday life, the homework and the rote learning all distilled into the brew; some brewers might be like inspired songwriters or clever wordsmiths such as Paul Heaton and others like session musicians who turn up day after day and play the same sequence of notes (not necessarily a bad thing as some of the best musicians in the world are sessioneers).

As for the drinker, is beer culture about how they approach the beer in their glass, how they have a relationship with it, how they treat the world when they think about it or drink it or place a plate of ribs in front of it or sit in an armchair closeted from the world, the glass to hand. Others might throw in the environment in which the beer is drank, the ambience of the place where the beer is enjoyed (or maybe isn’t enjoyed), the glare of the light that moonwalks across the stage of whatever drinking space in which the drinker happens to enjoy their beer.

Is it also about the words that are exchanged about the beer like tokens of affection? Or maybe, on the other hand, the words about the beer, whether in the hand or in someone else’s, are like missiles thrown at the police during an inner city riot. Beer’s like that, it encourages words to be tossed about, chucked up in the air, stamped on the floor, taken through the gutter and hung out to dry. Words soothed and smoothed like soft fur, fed on ripe corn, fattened up for slaughter and then they’re gone.

For others beer culture is the route beer takes to get from the people who make it, through the hands of the people who encourage people to try it, en route touching the hands of people who pay for the space in which the beer is made and the face that it shows to the world, before finally the beer laps into the glasses of the people who will pay for it — a journey perhaps with brightly coloured scraps and flags left at various stations along this passage calling out to people that this beer will make them more than they are.

And of course there’s the fury and the fire of the campaign, the broad bland outstretch palm smile of the evangelist and the educator, the sorter out of the wheat from the chaff, the ones that aim to bring order to the world of beer culture in the same way perhaps an art teacher would have loved to teach Picasso how to paint. There’s the time lord in search of what was lost and is found again, an arrow of time flying backwards and forwards. And finally there is the culture of beer culture, the historiography, the methodology, a place where beer culture is dissected like a frog in a school laboratory. 

So what is beer culture? 

Friday 14 September 2012

Bohemian Rhapsody (ahem)

Last year I spent a week travelling around southern Bohemia by bus and train, visiting bars and breweries in an attempt to get to the nature of the beers of the area. Ironically enough, next week I head off to the north this time. Last year my trip ended up at the The Sunshine in the Glass (Slunce ve skle) Beer Festival at Purkmistr Brewery, Pilsen, and this year I will do the same on September 22 (before I travel to Munich for an Oktoberfest assignment). My report on last year’s journey is in tomorrow’s Telegraph Travel but you can read it online here. As for the beer festival, if you can make it I would as it’s fabulous and features the best of what I call the new wave of Czech brewing (but those in the heart of it, such as Evan Rail and Max at Pivni Filosof, might call it something else), more details here

Thursday 13 September 2012

Another beer in in another country

Three police officers wander into the bar, nonchalant, not in need of any information, just with the aim of sitting down and ordering a drink. Glass of water for one, coffee for another and a schooner of beer for the other. A cat strolls past, ambient and distracted in its poise, while an elderly couple make their way along the atelier-like balcony above the pub; the Levi’s blue light from a torch is their only guide. Ah here comes my beer, a half-litre of darkness with a massive espresso coloured head, the sort of head you want to dive into with the abandonment of a dolphin and emerge with a Franz Josef beer moustache. It’s all liquorice, toast with plum jam, mocha and a grainy bit of bitterness in the finish with hints of chocolate truffle. It’s a very accomplished beer this glass of Tomislav, which according to Rate Beer is a Baltic Porter, though the nearest body of water to the bar in Zagreb where I am having a drink is the Adriatic, so an Adriatic Porter it is then. Earlier in the evening yet another brewery, the brewpub Zlatni Medo, a German beer hall lookalike, all dark wood with square cut furniture, the brewing equipment encased in its own space as you enter from the front. The first brewery I have ever been into where a massive bearskin sits atop one of the stainless steel brewing vessels (though the brewery’s name translated is golden bear). The Pilsner is unfiltered and has an unmistakeable Saaz spicy lemony character, though somewhat muted. It’s a clean beer, with a medium body, a halfway house between Czech and German and rather good. With roast potatoes, beans and the pub’s own home made sausage (juicy, bridging salt and meaty sweetness, with a chunky yet pliable texture), it’s a robust and thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the muscular gastronomic attractions of Zagreb. 

Monday 10 September 2012

Hail Hayle Bay Honey IPA

Here’s the delivery man with a large package, it’s beer mate he says without too much surprise, as he’s a regular. Yes it’s beer, a mini cask of Sharps’ Hayle Bay Honey IPA, which I cannot wait to try but given that it’s 10am I think I’ll wait a few hours. And I did wait and then spent Friday and Saturday in contemplation. I liked it, I liked it a lot, I liked the glorious contrast between the pungent sexy aroma of the hop and a more delicate lycee note that brought to mind the sort of sketches Picasso used to knock out on the back of a napkin (I once met someone who had one but then he’d lost it in the war). It’s a rough and refined nose at once, one you could argue represents the character of its maker. It’s a bittersweet, robust, chunky beer, sometimes rough and ready and then gentle and persuasive. It’s a tropical fruit celebration such as ripe mango and lycee and a delightful breakfast platter of brioche sweetness. It’s got a swagger and strut that reminds me of those films of Jagger onstage at the end of the 60s, or maybe go back further in time to sweet Gene Vincent. This is a beer with attitude, an altitude, a big rocker of a beer that mashes up sweetness and suaveness and the sexiness of ripe fruit skin all in one glorious go. 

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Perfect Pub

What’s my favourite pub? What are my five favourite pubs? What makes a pub perfect? Would you like another pint? If you want to know a bit more then why not have a look at today’s Daily Telegraph, page 19, in which I have written about the perfect pub — or go to the article here.

Friday 31 August 2012

Stale mild

And so a glass of mild it is, a dark sensuous looking creature with a collar of foam the colour of freshly exposed apple flesh after one guilty bite. Regulation toffee and mocha notes with a thin skein of orange existent just over the taste horizon. The mild is 4.3%, so there is also a weight of alcohol that you don’t normally find in weaker milds. However, there’s also an acidity, a twang of sourness, a slight tartness suggestive of apple, which suggests to me that the beer is the first one pulled today (it was early afternoon) and that it also might be a slow seller. So do I take it back? No, as I don’t actually mind the staleness in the beer, in fact I think it makes it more interesting and that leads onto another question. Would this have been something similar to what stale porters tasted like in the 1800s? Who knows but it was enjoyable — and this then begs another question, is it a case that some British cask beers retain a level of palatability (or even improve) when they are on the turn? 

Saturday 18 August 2012


You have to laugh
I first thought this said
Ale Cider Mead…
When I was young I had a credo about London: live there in my 20s and move out in my 30s, which is what I did. My time in London coincided with the rise of Wetherspoons and I used to spend a lot of time in the White Lion of Mortimer in Finsbury Park, a place where I discovered to my surprise that I enjoyed cask beer. As for London beer though, I think one of the few places I was aware of it was at the Fuller’s pub The Ship in Soho, otherwise that was it though I do recall driving my motorbike past Young’s at the end of the 1980s and being enthralled by the smell of brewing. Now of course, London is undergoing a massive brewing renaissance and you can read my take on it in today’s Daily Telegraph here. Oh and while I’m at it, Will Hawkes’ Craft Beer London app is also well worth getting, and you can find more info here.

Friday 17 August 2012

Ampleforth Abbey Ale

Here’s Ampleforth Abbey Ale, a couple of bottles of which I was sent and jolly glad I am too that I was sent them. Abbey Ale? I’m not going there and I’ve said my thing about the beer style here. So let’s just see what the beer has to say to me. Dark chestnut in colour, I’m reminded of hazelnut influenced chocolate on the nose; as if a hazelnut had met a piece of chocolate while out on the pull and decided that the two of them might be good for each other. Hold on, there’s a sarsaparilla note coming along to muck things up; thankfully all live happily ever after a civil ceremony that David Cameron agrees to following a pub lunch with Nick Clegg. On the palate it’s rich and varnished, vinous and virtuous, with its palatable sweetness kept in check by a raisiny caramelly and nutty character that shows what good malt and yeast can add to the mix. There’s some alcohol but not too much, just enough to get a sense of lift. There is also chocolate and very ripe dark plums with some sugar on them, all of which produce a bittersweet character that enables this companionable beer to dovetail totally with a Thai jungle curry I’d made on the evening of the tasting — the spice of the curry hits the bittersweetness of the beer and all retire happily to a tent in a clearing and discuss future relationships.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Beer and food once more

Come and enjoy a gastronomic beer menu said the invitation. Come and enjoy a menu worked out by Pete Brown and Charles Campion (see below for a few words from him to the night’s MC Nigel Barden) at Great Taste at the Cadogan, a plush old school hotel in the middle of Knightsbridge. Come and enjoy some of the stars of the recent Great Taste Awards. Come and enjoy food and beer in a place where wine is the preferred tipple on the table most of the time. And so I went to the press launch of a menu that included beer in both the dishes and as accompaniment on the table.

Cider, however, instead of beer opened up the evening as glasses of Aspalls’ Premier Cru were handed out as an aperitif before the dining room yawned chasm-like to swallow the diners.

To begin at the beginning there were three starters which each table were encouraged to share: mosaic (ok terrine) of rabbit in beer jelly, along with pickled Scottish girolles and cabbage, cooked in Sunshine from Monty’s Brewery, was paired with Otley’s O-Garden, whose jingle-jangle of spice got the terrine’s spice and sweetness singing along with the unity of the Millennium Stadium as they watch Wales surge forward time and time again. Treacle cured salmon with a beer glaze of Ola Dubh 16 was a tough call and I found the O-Garden bowing down in surrender before the oiliness of the fish (restrained as it was); it was almost as if the beer and fish cancelled each other out and all I was left with was a memory of the texture of the superbly cured salmon. Harmony reigned supreme however with the third starter Cornish Blue cheese, cobnut caramel and beer roasted shallots (Riggwelter). It was almost as if the cheese could not wait to wrap itself around the beer and announce to a waiting world when the baby was due.

Mains: squab pigeon pie with spinach parcels and butternut squash cooked with Hobsons Old Henry. This was served alongside Purple Moose’s Dark Side of the Moose, which all dark chocolate flavours that encircled themselves around the dark meat and added another layer of flavour, almost as if acting as a sauce. This was a good one. However, I had issues with the roasted sea-bass that had a Quickes Vintage Cheddar and herb crust. I loved the accompanying Bristol Hefe beer broth as the light bitterness of the Hefe meant that there was just enough in the foam-a-like broth for it to work like the sort of dream you don’t want to wake up from. The accompaniment was Bitter & Twisted, which I felt lost out to the cheese and herb crust; my thoughts were that there wasn’t enough carbonation to cut through the dairy-like fattiness of the cheese.

Then it was all the way to the puddings, three of which each table had a taster of: the Beer float Dark Island Reserve was divine when drunk in conjunction with the Ola Dubh 16 as all manner of dark flavours plus a vanilla smoothness and tobacco box adulthood encouraged an air of contemplation. The chocolate, prune and ale brownie (Old Engine Oil) also flew in the face of the oft-repeated assertion that dark beer and dark dessert shouldn’t be on the same table. Rhubarb crumble with beer jelly (Meantime London lager) was a welcome surprise, as the zinginess of Schiehallion lifted the flavour of the crumble and spun it into another dimension of being (and that’s saying something for me as due to being afflicted with a lot of it when young I’m not the greatest fan of rhubarb).

Verdict: a fabulous menu, another step forward for beer and food though a fellow beer-writer made the point to me that maybe it’s generally accepted that food and beer works, and now it’s a question of what beers to use? I thought of Byron Burgers and their craft beer selection for starters. This is thoroughly recommended bit of upscale dining with beer on the table — why not treat yourself?
The menu is priced at £18 for one-course; £23 for two-courses; and £28 for three-courses and will run until the end of September 2012.  There will be an ongoing beer theme running at Great Taste at The Cadogan for the rest of the year, along with the usual wine list.